A SMALL CITY OF BIG WONDERS, ZHANGJIAJIE: A Ride to Heaven
"Tell the story of the mountain you climbed, Your words could become a page in someone else's survival guide."
~ Margan H. Nucholo
Sunday ended the weekend and also concluded my getaway to Zhangjiajie. In this small city of big wonders, my last day included a visit to Tianmen Mountain. While the entire weekend was filled with incredible sights, this part of the trip brought an unexpected highlight. In truth, I did not expect to be as captivated as I was, and Tianmen Mountain was a spectacular surprise that leaves me impatient to return.
I thought Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge would be a thrill point, but no. Sunday afternoon was none stop thrills from the moment we hit the mountain. The start of this ascent began with the world’s longest cable car ride to the mountain’s summit. This 4.6-mile ride that runs nearly thirty minutes long is the only way to reach the mountain in the winter. During the warmer months, the mountain can be accessed by the 99 Bending Road. This road also takes you to the “Stairway to Heaven,” 999 steps to “Heaven’s Door” or Tianmen Mountain Cave, a naturally formed hole in the mountain side. In the winter, this road ices over and cannot be driven on.
However, back to the cable car. This cable car ride starts out nice and easy. As a matter of fact, it is smooth sailing— up until halfway through. After the car reaches the mid-point, it sharply inclines. The degree of the climb causes faintness as it sneaks up on you. I know my heart was racing with not only how high we were going, but fast. It was as though the ground just fell underneath us and we were about to touch the clouds. You’re just climbing, higher and higher and there’s no where to go until you make it to the top.
The climb is exciting and at the same time terrifying. It’s amazing being so high up, watching the landscape change before your eyes. Still, can’t help the sudden drop of the heart; especially when the car disappears into the clouds. It’s like you’re just floating, but its eerie moving and not seeing anything. One of the members in the group likened the experience to Stephen King’s The Mist—way to increase the terror and suspense.
When we emerged from the clouds, the mountain summit was like a winter fairy wonderland. Everything was coated in ice and snow. It was magic to this Florida girl. All you could see was white everywhere. The air was crisp. You could hear the breaking and falling ice. In the stillness, the atmosphere was strangely calming. It balanced the exhilaration walking along cliff-hanging walkways and skywalks. Crossing these glass pathways, was more intense than the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge. The glass was clearer, it was covered in ice thus slippery, and the fencing was lower. When you looked over the ledge, it was an abyss. You couldn’t see the bottom.
The danger level was more apparent here and carried through circling the top of the mountain. Try climbing ice coated stone steps. My feet were not used to walking in snow. I nearly fell a hundred times. Not to mention the raised pathways that did not have any fencing, so if you were to fall, you wouldn’t die, but you could get seriously injured.
Thankfully, slow and steady wins the day. I did not need to go back ice-burned and bruised from falling down stairs and sliding down walkways. I had gotten knocked upside the head by the falling ice enough. Amidst the ice, the snow and the mist, this was one for the memory book.
Don’t skip Tianmen Mountain on your tour of China! This is a must on travel checklist and gives you different sights all year long.